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Just before the shit hit the fan

The crossing into Jordan from Egypt was an experience in passing to order from the chaotic. Passing from Jordan into Syria was an experience of passing into the grim and ominous. A mined no-man's land separates the 2 countries at the Ar Ramtha border crossing, the border guards are armed with machine guns, bribes had to be paid - slipped into passports before passing into Daraa, a decrepit, rubbish filled town overlooked by billboards and posters of the smirking Bashar Al-Assad. You know he's a despot when he plasters his face all over the place. Our first impression of foreboding proved to be justified when the country later tore itself apart in civil war, with Daraa being at the start of it all in mid-March, just a month after we left.

Thankfully after the border crossing the countryside opened out into large olive groves on the drive to Bosra. Some of the farmsteads even looked propsperous. A feature of the countryside is rubble. From building work likely, but looking as if it's never disposed of - just pushed into piles everywhere.

The Syrian desert from the Bagdad Cafe, about halfway to Palmyra from Damascus.


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Bosra once the capital of the Roman province of Arabia and a key Roman fortress east of the Jordan River. It was situated at the crossroads of trade routes, and was a stop-off point for Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca and Medina. A bit glum and down at heel in modern times, its main feature is the well preserved Roman amphitheatre.

A free standing amphitheatre from the 2nd century AD that can seat 15,000. In great condition and the acoustics match the standard of the masonry. You can hear people on the stage from the back row seats.

Ruins adjoing the amphitheatre and the area immediately around the ruins and amphitheatre are spaceous and well maintained. The tourism value of the site is obviously well understood.


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What's at the end of the Road To Damascus

Touted as the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world. Old Damascus sure looks the part. Surrounded by modern Damascus it could be considered decrepit, and it is certainly antiquated. But, it is also intriguing, very different and hence worth exploring. It was a bit of a culture shock for we newbies to this part of the world and is best absorbed by staying over within its boundaries and trekking down side streets and alleys just to see what's there, day or night.

Intersected by the 1.5km Straight Street (or, more correctly, "A Street Called Straight") which contains one of the city's largest souqs - the Souq al-Hamidiyya, packed with tiny shops, entered through columns from a Roman temple built on a site that had been occupied by an even older temple. The souq smells of spices with craft shops dedicated to everything from leather and copper goods to inlaid boxes and silk scarves it is covered by an arched steel roof supported by iron lacework, with torch-beam-like shafts of sunlight admitted through bullet holes punctured through the roof by the machine-gun fire of French planes during the nationalist rebellion of 1925. Click on the link in the preceding paragraph and the long steel roof can be readily identified across the middle of the satellite image.

Above left. Shaghour Al Barrany St, Old Damascus.

Above right. Maktab Anbar, a more contemporary house in the center of Old Damascus near the Umayyad Mosque built as a private residence by a local Jewish notable in the mid 19th century. Due to high costs the project was abandoned in 1887. The Ottomans, who then occupied Syria, completed the project adding two wings and converting the house into a boys school. The house was restored by the Ministry of Culture in 1976 and now holds a library exhibition hall, museum and craft workshops.

Below - wandering the backstreets and alleys of Old Damascus.

Above left. Courtyard treasure hidden behind a non-descript doorway - revealed after a local encouraged us to take a look.

Above right. Facade of the Antique Khan - our hotel in Old Damascus hidden away in an alley off an alley. Behind the front door is a central covered courtyard that forms the communal part of the hotel. The courtyard is surrounded by 2 floors of rooms, each one being as promised - antique. Comfortable and atmospheric. A great experience; we loved it.


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Palmyra. In the middle of a desert in the middle of Syria, it's a long drive from anywhere. But, the desert scenery is fringed by mountains and maintains interest and the destination certainly justifies the journey if historic old ruins are your bag.

Bagdad Cafe

The Bagdad Cafe in the middle of the Syrian desert on the way to Palmyra. A pleasant pause on the long drive, with a friendly welcome, hot sweet tea, Arabic coffee, a shisha and as many cheap souvenirs as you'd care to buy - Mahmoud will be happy to take your money. A cheerful, welcoming guy and a born salesman. See the Cafe from space on Google Maps - the buildings in the middle.

Ancient Mercedes and ancient shepherd down the road from the Bagdad Cafe. Those sheepdogs are big and they're mean. The shepherd whistled this one back after he ran over threatening to take my leg off. Turn right a few kilometres further along and you're headed into Iraq and certain death.

Need masonry? Hire an Italian

Palmyra - a huge sprawl of Roman ruins built on an oasis and overlooked by the 13th century Fakhr-al-Din al-Maani Castle.

The Zenobia Cham Palace Hotel. Step right into the ruins from the brekkie table.

The Baal Shamin temple, in the photo on the left above and also the eigth of the Palmyra photos, was blown to pieces by ISIS in August 2015. I won't play into the hands of these stinking scumbags by linking to their photo of its destruction. These contemptible murderous zealots ritually executed 20 Syrian soldiers in the Roman amphitheatre (where Sean is standing in the third photo down) and beheaded the 81 year old director of antiquities and hung his mutilated body from one of the site’s ancient pillars.

Travel notes:

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